A disembodied spirit "living" a million years in the future gives us the lowdown on exactly how evolution reached the point it did. Which is to say mankind took a sudden leap from having big brains to having small ones. And why having small ones is actually better.
This is a hard one to talk about. This is the first Vonnegut I’ve read that didn’t knock my socks off. Did I hate it? No, not at all. But after reading five Vonnegut novels last year and being head-over-heels for each one, I’m bemused by the fact that I just thought this one was good. Not great. Good. Maybe even just… okay. I’ve over-analyzed like a mother trying to figure out why that is. Technically, it should have all the charm of his other books, but somehow I wasn’t feeling it here.
And that’s where reviewing becomes hard. Because I don’t think it has anything to do with aspects of the book that need to be picked apart, though I’ll probably try to anyway. I think in this case it’s me and my tastes and the semi-slump I’ve been in when it comes to reading this month. I felt like I plodded through this book, whereas Vonnegut has been a writer I devour every time. I’m reluctant to blame him with that.
I find myself wanting to compare this book to Breakfast of Champions. I’ve seen people accuse that book of being too flighty, all over the place, no direction. I felt like there was a distinct method to the madness in that book. By contrast, there were times when I felt I was seeking the method with Galapagos and finding only a lack of damns that Vonnegut gave when it came to story structure. That’s typical of him, but I think Galapagos proved to me it works better some times than others.
He’s clearly the type to not focus on the science in his science fiction, and that has never bothered me. Over-explaining isn’t always fun and can just bog things down. But there was a moment in this book that made me bristle. It’s not science-related really. It’s more just a symptom that connects with his need to skim over the science. This book is a story about an apocalypse, and it starts with everyone deciding money is now worthless. Maybe he meant the stock market crashed super hard, but the way he put it was to say people realized money is worthless, and it felt cheap to me. Social commentary, I get it. But it didn’t work for me. Then he goes on, over halfway through the book, to come up with more ways that humankind is going extinct, and it felt like he was shrugging and saying, “oh yeah, I forgot to put that in. Sorry. Here’s some BS that should cover it.” It made me unsure that he cared about what he was writing at all.
But were there things I liked? Of course! Vonnegut’s unique brand of philosophy is here in abundance. So is his trademark sense of humor. It’s full of universal truths and nods to old characters and amusing tidbits and everything I love about his writing. I just didn’t connect with it like I normally do.